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Fleet's 25 Year Anniversary

The Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw once wrote: "I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live."

In the current economic climate, it is perhaps a challenge to remember that our sense of community - the place where we work, live and interact with each other every day - is built on a collective feeling of responsibility. In other words, if one person in our community suffers, we all suffer. 

The voluntary sector is seen as one of the pillars of David Cameron's Big Society, yet it has been a major casualty in ongoing government cuts. Despite these difficulties, one voluntary organisation that has continued to put itself at the heart of its community is Fleet Counselling. For the past 25 years, Fleet has tirelessly supported some of the most vulnerable members of our society and this year it is celebrating its achievements. 

The number of men and women in our society who are in emotional and mental distress is ever-growing. They might be suffering from violent relationships, depression, marriage breakdown, drug and alcohol dependency and - particularly in the current climate - the effects of unemployment and financial difficulties. Fleet serves them all. 

Set up in 1987 by a group of trained volunteer counsellors, Fleet continues to offer affordable, low-cost, psychotherapeutic support weekly to people living in London. It is based in Hampstead and run by a dedicated team of twelve volunteer counsellors, therapists, supervisors and trustees who remain committed to help those most in need. All counsellors are fully-trained and attend supervision every fortnight with an outside consultant. Clients come for an initial session when their needs are assessed, and they are offered up to 24 counselling sessions - more than most counselling services offer. 

Patron Baronness Helena Kennedy says: "There is a lot of guff spoken about social inclusion but hardly anything done to heal these wounds. Fleet helps the less-better off living in our community." As well as Kennedy, Fleet has other well-known supporters including psychotherapists Susie Orbach and Patrick Casement, who have both given fundraising lectures in the past to help support the service. 

Fleet's aim continues to be the same as it was when the service was set up, originally as a support for students attending classes at Fleet Community Education Centre in NW3 - to make counselling accessible to all sections of the community and to people of low incomes who are not able to afford private therapy. Many clients are self-refer or are directed by their GPs, other counselling services and local community agencies and services such as Fleet continue to supplement the lack of capacity in the NHS. 

However, in order to sustain Fleet through the next 25 years, at a time when its support will no doubt continue to be in demand, funding is needed. Although the entire team work free of charge, there are still running expenses to be met - counsellor travel expenses, telephone bills, insurance, administration etc. A counsellor says that donations are much-needed: "Donations from our clients - we charge a minimum of £5 an hour for people on benefit, going up to £40 for those who can really afford it - really do not cover anything except absolute basics. We could see twice as many clients as we do now - we have a three month waiting list. We want to continue to offer high quality low-cost counselling to people who need it - and we need your support." 

Fleet will be celebrating their quarter-centenary by hosting a special fundraising event to be announced shortly. Anyone who is interested in helping the charity should contact Fleet Counselling at The Hoo, 17 Lyndhurst Gardens, London NW3 5NU or email info@fleetcounselling.org.  

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